Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Drought and the Memory of a Thunder Storm

A clump of rudbeckia, one of only a few plants able to bloom in heat and drought.
These photos were taken on Sunday.
Since then very dry conditions have worsened, although I have not documented the pitiable sights.

[My camera was pushed off my untidy desk by Mimacat who for some indecipherable feline reasoning felt she should spend every spare moment of several days on the desk.
I have taken it to a local shop hoping it can be repaired.
The battery door is sprung.
The photos below were taken by putting a heavy rubberband around the camera to hold the door in place enough for the batteries to make contact--that is, if the camera was held just so.
I have an older camera but haven't seen the USB cord in some time.]

Looking across the perennial strips toward the lower veg patch.
Pastures have browned, Big Creek is dry.
Grass on the lawns crunches underfoot.

That triangular patch of hillside pasture seen in the distance, looking south down the valley, is usually green.
Daily the grass available to the neighboring cattle is diminished.

Looking across the front lawn into the meadow on Sunday.
J. cut the hay on Monday.
Ironically he doesn't have to watch the forecast for a spell of dry weather to cure the hay.

I sowed tomato seeds the first week of June, meant for a late summer crop of tomatoes.
The seedlings sat in rows in two large pots, seed leaves raised in a tight clasp, like folded hands.
They refused to progress.
I decided the potting soil I used was at fault.  I had been suspicious of this when about a third of my early crop tomato seedlings were too stunted to set out.
I used so much potting soil this spring that in the interest of economy I bought several sacks of an
unknown brand.
It was coarse, heavy stuff.
I was tempted to throw out these later seedlings, but potted them on in fresh, good quality soil.
To my amazment in two days they put out true leaves.
I gave them a dose of 'Miracle Grow' and today noted that
the second set of leaves is forming.
Unless weather conditions change dramatically, there will be no late garden.
The Govenor of Kentucky has issued various directives to make simpler the delivery of water, hay, and feed to livestock farmers in the worst hit areas of the western KY counties.
From a Lexington on-line news source:
Drought-related conditions in Kentucky began in March, with abnormally high temperatures and lower than normal rainfall, and those conditions have continued this summer. Sixty-six Kentucky counties are now classified under Level 1 drought, with moderate to severe drought conditions, while 24 counties in the west are under the more-severe Level 2 classification.

We have been diligently watering the gardens as best we can and have continued to harvest broccoli, beets, green beans and sweet corn, along with early tomatoes. All the plants are displaying considerable stress, and I could weep looking at the shriveling vines of the melons and cucumbers.
There is no rain in the forecast, but warnings of temperatures at 100 F abound.
We are dis-heartened.
Still, we are blessed in comparison to those in the path of the horrendous fires in Colorado.
We have friends who live in Colorado Springs where the worst fires are out of control, and we are concerned for them.
I well remember the summer fires in Wyoming: the scent of smoke blown in from hundreds of miles away, the air thick with the odor of charred pine and sagebrush; the dirty orange glow in the sky as the long twilights faded.
I am reposting an essay written in 1997 and first posted during my first weeks of blogging in 2008.


The thunderstorm moves in just as the evening milking is nearing completion. All day the mid-summer sun has climbed, a brass ball in a sultry sky, shriveling the long green streamers of field corn, wilting the dahlias along the north end of the house. The cosmos near the front porch droop delicately, their soft pink petals faded and limp, frothy leaves dangling on listless stems. In the yard hens scratch in the dirt, clucking querulously.
My Grampa Mac has not lingered over his noon dinner today, has foregone his usual doze in the rocking chair. Leaving his pipe and can of Prince Albert on the living room table, he gathers the hired men, pitchforks, a water jug, and clambers stiffly into the passenger seat of the farm truck. The truck bumps down the rough track to the meadow, lurching over ruts, its slow progress marked by puffs of dust.

I scuff along to the meadow gate to watch the slow loading of hay bales, the jerking stops and starts of the old truck. Three times the men return to stow neat tiers of bales in the bay of the big barn. Their blue shirts are stuck to their backs; when they swill from the common jug of ice water, wetness dribbles onto their chins, drips and mingles with the sweat of their forearms, spatters onto their dusty shoes.

In the northwest sky, clouds pile, dirty-white shading into ashy grey and purple-black. My uncle fusses about the dooryard, shooing his hens toward their coop, muttering dourly about "thunder heads." A sullen wind stirs up acrid dust, rushes through the branches of the apricot tree, turns up leaves on the maples.

No one needs to fetch the cows home for milking; an hour early they cluster uneasily at the gate. We stand guard while they cross the dirt road and plod into the barn, cow-pies splotting behind them onto dry packed earth. The old De Laval milk pump sputters and drones, its sound harsh in the heavy air. The clatter of pails and milk cans, the scrape of the hoe pushing manure into the gutters, create a dinning discord as the wary hush deepens outside.

I lurk at my grandfather's heels, getting in his way, edgy as the stable cats, until he installs me on an upturned bucket in the alcove between the milking barn and the hay barn. A tiger cat weaves around my sneakered feet, eyes glowing amber in the strange early dusk.

As the milking machine is pulled from the last cow, the sky outside the open windows is slashed with fire, yellow-white, cutting against a horizon gone an angry blackened green. Thunder crescendos, barn timbers creak. Cows plunge in their wooden stanchions, straining, frightened. At the third boom of thunder the lights flicker and go out. The milk pump whines to a stop. My grandfather appears at my side, his bulk familiar and reassuring in the gloom. We walk out to stand together in the roofed passageway between stable and milk-house. Rain pounds on the tin overhead and sluices in sheets past the open sliding door, drilling a trench in the gravel under the eaves.

There is a pause like a gasp of indrawn breath, a silent split second before the rain is followed by a staccato of small hail. Steam rises from the ground and the stale smell of tired dust gives way to a cool scent, like snow in summer. In a few moments the din slackens; familiar farmyard shapes reappear, looming through the silver veil of wet. The thunder creeps off, still grumbling.

Grampa Mac reaches inside the stable doorway, plucks his ragged denim barn frock from a peg. He wraps me in the coat, the woolen lining scratching my bare arms. Hoisting me, he plods through the green twilight toward the house.

Essay from writer's retreat
Wentworth, N.H. 1997
Sharon D. Whitehurst

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Herb Garden Make-Over

The herb garden showing new life on 3 March, 2012.

The small space between the carport and the cellar stairwell was a weedy area when we
 moved here in 2010.
I did little with the space that first year, other than some half-hearted grubbing which revealed shallow gritty soil with the roots of the nearby box elder tree sending out woody tentacles just below the surface.
In March of 2011 after I had hacked and dug to exhaustion, I hired my Amish nieghbor, Delilah, to help finish the transformation of this plot into a small herb garden.
We finished excavating the soil down to a depth of about 15 inches, put down landscape fabric, and mixed some good 'dirt' in before replacing and leveling the soil.
I moved sage plants which had been over-whelmed in the perennial border, divided lemon thyme, and moved in some lemon balm I found growing at the side of the house.
I divided Lambs Ears and placed it in the center as a focal point and to contribute silver color amongst the shades of green.
Along the cement wall I planted ajuga, also moved from an over-grown existing planting along the carport.
A division of nepeta and a decorative oregano were placed in the dry back corner.
The only plants bought specifically for this venture were several small pots of creeping thyme and three starts of lavender vera.

1 April, 2012, taken after an early evening rain.

4 April, 2012.
Thyme has billowed over the edge of the planting onto the cement carport ramp.
Johnny-jump-ups [viola tricolor] have self-seeded here and there.

By 25 May it has become evident that  Lambs Ears has taken over the lower end of the garden, shading out the stepping stones and the creeping thyme in that area, crowding the sage plants.

Last week by the time I was free to do recreational gardening [as opposed to picking string beans, and weeding the veggies] I had decided that a number of overly vigorous plants needed to be removed.
When the worst of the days heat had seeped into the cooler temps of evening, I turned on the outside lights and proceeded to ruthlessly uproot Lambs Ears, and a towering nepeta, and gave the oregano and lemon balm a severe pruning.
I tore up mats of ajuga, replacing it with some starts of creeping thyme.
The Lambs Ears was surprisingly difficult to remove as the stems had sent invasive roots in every direction.
I placed two more small stepping stones where the Lambs Ears had larruped and set out several lavenders which I raised from seed.
Next spring I will locate some well-behaved silver thyme to plant in bare spots around the stones.
This little garden doesn't aspire to being an impressive collection of specimen plants.
It is a tiny homely space with some of my favorite herbs--handy by to touch and enjoy
their scents and forms.

The barrel planter at the back right corner of the herb garden is planted to kitchen herbs each spring.
Here are seedlings of Red Rubin basil, a large-leaved green basil and cilantro.
Future seasons may see such edging plants as seed-grown signet marigold, or pansy
tucked into any open space.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Photo Session With Teasel

I was asked today to share some photos of my beloved Teasel cat.
A photo of a similarly marked feline was posted on our local online 'magazine' to which I sometimes contribute essays and photos.
The featured cat was affectionately labeled a "Kentucky Tiger."
I responded with the comment that an exotic 'tiger' also lives with us, and the editor suggested I submit some photos.
I have taken dozens of photos of Teasel since she came to live with us in November, 2007; they are scattered through two photo programs on my PC.
Gathering the best and formatting them proved a frustrating venture [my photo folders need sorting and labeling] so I cornered my darling and began to try different camera settings, overhead light on, shutters behind the bed twitched open.
Always the best poses happen just before or after I press the button and the flash goes off.
Here are some of the better ones for those who love cats.
I finished with a collage of a few photos showing Teasel from kittenhood til now.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Tribute to My Father

About 10 years ago my niece Tiffany organized a Christmas gift for my parents, a scrapbook for which family members contributed essays and/or photos.
I have condensed my contribution slightly to publish here as a Father's Day remembrance.

Larry D. 1941
photo taken by my Mother on their honeymoon.

Photos of my Dad and me when I was 18 months old.

Don’t Want to Hear the Frogs!
Memories of Daddy

This is my first clear memory of interaction with my father: I suppose that I was about three years old. We lived in three rooms of Grampa Mac's farmhouse at the time. I can picture the “living” room--sofa on the long wall, the Sears Silvertone radio on a nearby stand. The kerosene stove for cooking and heating loomed against the north wall; the maple table and chairs stood under the west windows, giving a view of the old maple tree on the lawn and the apricot tree nearer the house, the rambler rose, peonies and lily of the valley scattered around it.

On this spring evening one of the west windows was propped open to the fresh, green-scented air. Darkness was falling, blotting out my little daytime world ; the dusk seemed alive with strange small sounds and the movements of dimly imagined creatures. Daddy announced that the “peepers” were singing and suggested that I come outside with him, the better to appreciate their voices. As I hung back, he scooped me up and headed for the hall door. Struggling, I insisted on being put down. Daddy coaxed, I was adamant. The only explanation I could verbalize was, “Don’t want to hear the frogs, don’t want to see the frogs!”

As I grew older  I delighted in Daddy’s sensitivity to the changes of the seasons; from him I began to learn awareness for the voices of birds; for the joys of mayflowering; when to look for the first pussywillows. I remember waking on a spring morning to find the galvanized washtub reposing in the middle of the kitchen floor, filled with cold water and the pickerel he had speared the night before. I remember the Sunday he brought home a handful of ladyslippers, both pink and yellow, and the time he discovered a beaver dam deep in the woods. He and Ed B. took my younger sister C. and me to the dam—having to lug us over the muddy places and across several brooks. I remember later summer nights, after we had moved along the road to 'the new house' when we were puzzled by the “Ta-chunk, Ta-chunk” coming up from a moist corner of the pasture. Daddy decided it was a “mud hen." It was over thirty years later that I learned the proper name of the night bird,  a Great Bittern.

Daddy always enjoyed his vehicles. The first one I recall was a sky-blue Terraplane car. I remember standing behind the driver's seat gripping the prickly velour back rest while he did “do-nuts” on the ice in the driveway.  I loved riding with him in his red Dodge dump truck, kneeling up on the seat so I could see the windmills that dotted the farmyards in Whiting. I also loved going with him to Huntley’s crushed stone pit in Leicester Junction, huddling in the truck while the crushed rock thundered down  the chute into the dump body. I thought it quite remarkable that Daddy could stand on the running board, looking behind him as he backed up.  When the new Rte 73 was under construction I was so proud that my Dad was one of the men building the road.   During the summer that work went forward on the section of road nearest our home I often rode toward the corner on my bike to watch for his red truck lumbering by.

I remember the time my Dad decided to construct a better version of the TV antenna.  This required various lengths of metal tubing laid out on the dining room floor, ribbons of wire and numerous trips up a ladder to the roof to test the reception. C. and I were positioned in front of the television [a black and white Emerson] while Daddy turned the new roof antenna from side to side—as the reception altered, we were to run to the door and shout that it was “better” or “worse”.  The contraption had been trimmed and refined to the point that we could actually view something other than channel 6, but Daddy figured one more snip of the crosspieces might bring perfection. He snipped.  It was the “point of no return:” absolutely no reception!  His language, as he removed his invention, was of the sort we were strictly forbidden to emmulate.

Photo by C.

Daddy was Road Commissioner of our small town for many years and took his work very seriously. During the great winter snowstorms of the 1950’s he was often out several nights in a row, urging the old plow truck along the back roads, usually with Del F. as his “wing man”.  I woke in the wee hours to hear the parked plow rig growling below my bedroom window while Daddy and Del sat in the kitchen stoking up on sandwiches, tomato soup and hot coffee. The road commissioner’s job was not always a matter of personalities that worked well together.  Many a time Daddy stopped for his lunch or came home to supper grumbling about the dictates of the Select Men.  One time, in discussing something John B. had decreed, he used the phrase, “hell-and- damnation”.  I understood this as “Helen Damnation” and wondered for some time what woman of our acquaintance he meant!

The last photo of my Dad and me, taken August, 2006.

When I moved so far from Vermont in 1998, I didn’t know how much I would miss the phone calls from Daddy to tell me, “I’m afraid its going to frost tonight, you'd better cover your flowers.” or, like an echo from many years before, “Go out on your front  porch and hear the peepers.”

Whenever—and wherever-- I see the first robins of spring I will hear Daddy’s voice sharing with me his news, “I saw a robin red-breast today!”
Thank you, Daddy!


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Potato Seed Berries

Jim requested potatoes for supper and when informed that we had used the last of the 'store-bought' supply, he headed for the garden with grandson Devin Gould and Willis the Cat in tow.

Seconds later Devin burst into the kitchen commanding, "Meme, you have to see this--the potato plants have grown little green tomatoes!"

We pondered this, never having seen such an occurance in many years of gardening. I was vaguely aware that both potatoes and tomatoes belong to the nightshade family of plants [solanaceae] and that because of this relationship tomatoes, once called 'love-apples,' were formerly considered unfit for humans to eat.

An internet search gave us the information that potatoes sometimes set these 'seed-balls' or 'seed-berries' when long days [think June] coincide with a spell of cooler weather.

Yukon Gold potatoes, our favorite, are particularly prone to this seeding process. Interestingly, although some of the seed stems were bare I found no green 'berries' rolling about in the potato rows. None of the other potato varieties are making seed balls.

What seemed like a casual garden errand provided a learning moment and some nearly perfect
Yukon Golds for the evening meal.

As well, Willis the Cat found opportunity for garden supervision--he takes all discoveries in stride.

For more on potato seed balls, go here:


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The War Between the States

John Henry [lt] and James Berry Whitehurst [rt]
Photo from the collection of Diane Whitehurst Collins
Also published in Chronicles of Pitt County, NC, Vol II.

Rain had fallen overnight and now a gentle April sun slanted through new green leaves and fell in bands of light along trim lawns and tidy gravel paths.

There were few visitors at the Petersburg Battle Site that morning.
Jim and I, with our two young children, were spending a few days with his father’s sister in Petersburg, VA and Uncle Roy Whitehurst had collected us for an outing.

“Don’t schools up north teach you anything about the War Between the States?”
His tobacco- -roughened voice was incredulous. “You’ve never read about the
Siege of Petersburg—about the Crater?”

We walked the paths, stopping at each interpretive display to press the button and listen while recorded voices recited history; voices dripping with the honeyed cadence of Southern speech
even as they imparted grim details.
Later, out of earshot of our Virginia family, Jim and I admitted that the textbook version of the Civil War, covered in a few chapters of US History 11 had barely scratched the surface.

I enjoyed my high school history classes. Offered as extra-curricular reading for the Civil War unit were Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.

I try now to honestly recall my reaction to the first of those books. Its feverish melodrama may well have influenced my thinking about the injustices of slavery, yet it was a tiresome book, with too many piously indignant asides from the author, too many harrowing and sentimental scenes. I had no urge to reread it.

Gone with the Wind, by contrast, had everything that could appeal to a romantic 16 year old girl. I devoured the chapters, reading during the ride to and from school, keeping it open on my desk while I wallowed through homework of Latin declensions and the unfathomable intricacies of plane geometry. I smuggled the book and a flashlight under my bedcovers.

By 1990 when PBS first aired Ken Burns The Civil War, I had read any novel of the old south and the Civil War that I could borrow from the library. Jim and I had been to Gettysburg Battlefield and to Appomattox Courthouse. Jim’s work as a long-haul trucker had routed him through the cities of Atlanta, Richmond, Savannah, Vicksburg. He read biographies of Abraham Lincoln, worked his way through the
Time-Life series on the Civil War, memorizing the battle sites, gaining an acquaintance with the sequence of battles and their generals.

I was still lost in the human-interest side of the era: historical narratives [a loftier term for historical fiction] based on the lives of Mary Todd Lincoln or Varina Davis.  The diary of Mary Chestnut fired my imagination with her first-person accounts and impressions as the war dragged on.

We watched those first episodes of the Ken Burns documentary together before Jim had to leave on another trip. Alone then, I sat intent, absorbing the final installments, captivated by the images of damaged and speckled photographs, crossing the room to the piano to pick out the chords and tunes of the background music, haunted each night by the sheer horror of the depicted casualties and destruction.
Several years later Vermont Public Television scheduled a January fundraiser with a Sunday showing of the full documentary. There had been a blizzard of snow a few days earlier and the sun made blue shadows on the drifts that swept around our house. Jim was at home and we spent the day in front of the television, taking turns to hurry into the kitchen, to fetch in a
tray with tea, cheese, crackers and Campbells Tomato Soup.

The impact of the film absorbed this way, all of a piece, was staggering.

We borrowed the video cassettes a decade later when we lived in Wyoming, watched them again, learning some new fact each time, but still with no sense of a personal family heritage that included the Civil War
While in Wyoming I became involved in family research. I was learning rudimentary computer skills, and bought a subscription to

Oddly, it was Jim’s paternal line I researched first.

It was a time-consuming process, hindered by the agonizing slowness of a dial-up internet connection. [I calculated that I could boil a kettle and steep a cup of tea while waiting for the next page of the
Pitt County, North Carolina  census to load!]

I had the great blessing of connecting with two of Jim's 3rd or 4th cousins whom we had never met. We continued for several years to share our findings. His cousin Diane’s meticulous and untiring research resulted in a 235 page book:
The Whitehurst Family of Princess Anne County, Virginia, and Pitt County, North Carolina.
She shared a grainy newspaper photo of James B. and John H. Whitehurst, twins, two wiry, white-bearded old men attending a CSA reunion.

James served with the 3rd Confederate Infantry of NC. John joined the NC Enlisted Company G, 13th Regiment.
James and John, g-g-uncles of Jim and Diane survived the war, came home to Pitt County, married and raised families.

Four brothers of John Henry and James Berry Whitehurst were casualties of the war:

Richard served in the NC Enlisted, Company C Infantry. He was captured at Winchester, VA and died in a prison camp at Lookout Point, MD.

Benjamin who joined Company G, 8th Infantry Regiment, NC was hospitalized in Goldsboro, NC at the time of his death, whether from wounds or disease is not known.

Joseph, NC Enlisted, Company G, 13th Regiment was captured and died in a Richmond, VA prison.

William Ashley. NC Enlisted, Company 3,  died in Richmond of typhoid fever.

Their father, John C. Whitehurst, though not a soldier, died at home in the second year of the war; he was in his early 60's.

My own great, great grandfather, Almeron Davis was nearing 40, a farmer in the Adirondack town of Hague, NY when he enlisted in the 5th New York Cavalry, Company H.

His pension application describes a tall, fair-haired man of ruddy complexion and states that he was suffering from “advanced tuberculosis” when accepted into the service.

He saw action in several skirmishes before being taken prisoner in Chantilly, VA. He was later exchanged and discharged as medically unfit for service. His request for pension was, like so many others, denied.
[I have seen one on-line record which listed him among those who died in prison, which may have been a cause for denial of his pension!]

His grandson, my Grampa Mac, was born the year after the death of Almeron Davis in 1885
[G-G-grandfather Davis was enumerated with his wife in the census for 1870 and 1880 and was buried in the old cemetery in Hague, NY.]

Perhaps I read too much into grandfather Davis’ choice of the cavalry for his enlistment.
My Grampa Mac was known life-long as a man who had a “way with horses.” I like to think it was a gift passed down from the man who returned from his admittedly short service in the war to endure years of ill health and infirmity before his death in his early 60’s.

As we watched the Civil War documentary yet again in March, 2011, I was stunned to think that 150 years have passed since that terrible conflict.  
[Our adopted state, Kentucky, was a border state, so there is a mixed heritage of
sympathies cherished here.]
I’ve pondered the impact of the war on the small upstate New York county that has been home to my mother’s kin from the late 1700’s to the present.

I think about the losses of life and the huge change in economics in the south where most of Jim’s family went from being among the landed gentry to post-war renters or owners of small rural properties.

Whatever the allegiance of our respective families, few of that era emerged from the war years unscathed.

It was a war that should never have been.

A slightly different version of this article was published  in a March, 2011 edition of the local on-line journal, Columbia Magazine.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Garden Fresh

The garden has come on in spite of my worries over blight on the tomatoes
and in spite of a rather dry spell.
Yesterday I brought in fresh green beans--which had grown a bit bigger than I really like.

These are the first two cucumbers of the season.
I like this slender spineless variety--similar to the "English" cukes one can buy at great price, individually cello-wrapped.
Teasel takes great interest in everything I fetch in from the garden.
My camera was not quick enough to record the swift grey paw forking beans from the collander.
They are batted about until they disappear under the furniture, coming to light again, shriveled and dry, when I do a good sweeping.

Salad made with our own lettuce--a wavy red loose-head type and a green bibb.
Tomatoes are the last of those we bought at the Mennonite produce auction two weeks ago, broccoli from the garden [all ready at once!] and fresh tangy onions, local eggs, and a topping of
canned tuna to add protein.
Dressing is a good pale green olive oil, a slosh of red-wine vinegar, sea salt and a sprinkle of fresh-ground peppercorns.  I use a mix of read, green and white--much more mellow than black pepper.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Man with a Gadget

With first-crop haying under cover, J. has been busy with his on-going renovation of the
garage into a better work space.
He has been making noises about his great need for a 'power-washer'
to aid in removing greasy deposits from the equipment he buys and refurbishes for resale.
He has been making on-line comparisons of price and features
and suddenly announced that Tractor Suppply Co had the best 'deal.'
G. had just whirled in when J. declared he was headed to town.
Since we both adore Tractor Supply [think farm, garden, pet supply, boots and stylish work wear]
we eagerly clambered into old Snort'n Nort'n.
G. and I had a fine time poking about the store while J. consulted with our neighbor, an employee there.
It seemed the local store had sold out of the power washer, but the store in the next county
had several in stock.
J. was in an expansive mood, so excited over his new gadget that he conceeded my plea for garden mulch should be indulged.
We roared off to C-ville with 12 bags of brown bark mulch stacked on the truck's flat bed.
There was no dallying allowed once the machine was in J.'s possession.
We roared home and after a hasty sandwich J. dug out his old yellow rainsuit and fired up his new toy.

In this humid climate scouring green mildew off the north or shady side of our houses is a yearly chore.
This morning saw J. happily finding another use for the power washer.

When I saw him planting a step ladder in my herb garden,
I was less than pleased.
The cats, sprawled comfortably in their adjoining fenced enclosure took umbrage
at the roar of the thing and hastily fled inside.

Even the back entry in the carpot was washed down.
I hasten to point out that the green stuff occurs only on the north wall oft the house.
However, if you're having fun, why quit?
At the end of the day I must admit that the whole exterior of the house looks fresh and clean.
Now, if I could get motivated to scrape and paint the trim.....

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Willis and the Tree Swallows

Our early weeks on the small Gradyville farm [2010] were filled with discovery, a time of experiencing spring in a setting new to us.
The kitchen window and the sliding door in the tiny dining area look onto the back dooryard, past the weathered trunks of box elder and silver maple and on to a pair of twisted crab apples trees.
In one hangs a vintage bluebird house installed by Haskell Rogers.
The shingle on the roof is curled and the perch is missing, but the amount of activity around it suggests a history of satisfied tenants.

Noting what appeared to be a waiting list for avian domiciles Jim brought an old board down from the tobacco barn and fashioned it into two more bird houses.

In this the third summer of our residency, we've noted that while bluebirds swirl about the two backyard houses, the house located in the goat willow on the edge of the front lawn has been consistently occupied by tree swallows.

I watch them in the mornings as they dart and dive through the shimmer of early sunshine, sailing through the clouds of small insects which hover just beyond the porch.

This evening I noticed one bird sitting rather stolidly in the circle of the birdhouse entrance. She [or he?] seemed oblivious to the other birds who swooped about the branches of the willow or teetered on the nearby power line.

I approached quietly with my camera and was able to snap a few photos before
Willis the Cat
bounded in to help.

The birdhouse is protected by a barricade of fencing wire, but Willis had to exercise his privilege of looming over it from an upper branch--just because he could.

I prodded Willis with a twig until he jumped lightly down and strolled off to recline on his favorite humped grey rock--his back to the birdhouse where the swallow again perched, tranquil in the enfolding twilight.

Its a pity that a hard working cat can't enjoy a bit of recreational bird-watching
without being suspected of evil intentions.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Garden Photo Round-Up

One of the marvels of a garden is observing the changes, both subtle and more dramatic, which occur from day to day, week by week, and with each turn of the calendar.
Each season brings surprises of weather, some plants in the flower borders burgeon into exuberant clumps, some merely hang on, a few fade and the 'place there-of knows them no more.'
This is one of the last of the poppies.
Their season is a brief one and the exotic beauty of each bloom lasts only for a day.
A small army of the plants had germinated early in the winter and braved the frosty weeks, a bit shriveled but viable.
Weeds grew around them, mostly invasive blades of grass.
I was surprised to find that these self-sown plants were nearly all of just two varieties.
There were none of the frilly pink or red 'doubles' which flourished in the summer of 2011.

 Our early labors in the veg garden are being rewarded.
J. dug a hill of Yukon Gold potatoes this week.
We will probably let most of them mature a bit more as we have some 'store-bought' potatoes on hand to finish up.
We've found that we can store our garden potatoes successfully only through December, so we planted less this season and will eat them as long as they can be dug and used fresh.

M. was presented with broccoli plants which he shared with us.
We've harvested 4 heads this week.
I made a sauce with our favorite cheddar [Vermont Cabots] to serve with the second meal.
Lettuce--both red and green loose-leaf types, must be consumed or shared before the next blast of hot weather causes it to bolt.

Friday morning was cool and damp after welcome rain that began Thursday evening.
This moth was fluttering about in the grass at the garage door.
It wasn't very obliging when I attempted to get a closer photo.

[Photo by Pen Waggener in Columbia Magazine identifies this as an Imperial Moth.]

The Michaelmas daisies by the clothesline are in bloom.
This is an effect of the strange season we've experienced here.
I have known these as New England Asters--very prevalent in the pastures and roadsides of Vermont--but blooming in late August and through September.
Early August was their bloom time during our first two Kentucky summers.
I'm thinking I will cut them back and hope for a second flowering.

The elder flower is enchanting--just coming into bloom.
The starry flowerets have a delicate scent and a blush of pale pink.

The dianthus in the foreground bloomed early and has 'gone by.'
I will let some of the seedheads ripen, then shear it back.
The dominant colors in the border are now shades of scarlet and gold with the achilleas as the star turn.

Achilleas Coronation Gold and Paprika massed in front of Yellow Simplicity roses.
This achillea, a warm pink, has been later to bloom and is now at its peak.
My perennial gardening has a greater element of frugality with a retirement budget.
When I find that a plant flourishes I don't mind an abundance of it in the varieties I can start from seed.

One of my favorite rugosas, Blanche Double de Coubert.
The rugosas [surprisingly] aren't as happy here in zone 6 as they are in a New England setting.
Japanese Beetles have gathered for the season of roses,.
I wage war on them every morning.
I PINCH them with a vengeance!

The last poppy to bloom and only one of two plants to appear in this tousled style.
You can see that the edge is rather frizzled--it bloomed just after the rain.
I've made a note of its location to save the seed.

This next series of photos were a bit of an experiment.
There was no service at our church the last weekend of May [camp meeting in Tennessee] so instead of a morning when I rushed about to make myself presentable I went out to the porch with the one mug of coffee I allow myself per day.
It was later than my usual start to the day and already too warm for comfort on the wicker loveseat which faces directly into the morning sun.
I carried a folding lawn chair around to the carport and settled myself with mug of coffee and my camera.
I decided to experiment with various combinations of zoom, landscape and macro settings to snap only what I could see from my chair.
This shot of the poppy pods in the border has a very militant look.
Garlic grows in odd places here.
Mr. Rogers has told us that he planted some under the grape arbor.
Whether he planted it in other spots or it simply seeded itself, I don't know.
This one stalk came up in the tangle of daffodils near the carport.
Its papery cap had popped off and lay beside it on the ground by the next morning.

This vine with shiny heart-shaped leaves clambers all over the daffodil area.
Here it has wound itself around the garlic stalk.
Several days later I noticed that stalk and vine had both toppled.
It could be a natural event--or could be the result of the incorrigable Willis; he has a penchant for rampaging through plantings.

Johnny-Jump-ups which sprang up in the corner of the herb bed.
They will shortly disappear as they don't like hot weather, but they spring up, true to form, in the fall.

A view of the herb patch, in shade most of the day with the sun splashing between the maples and box elders in the yard.
The lambs ears definitely needs restraining.

Lavender vera.

Bumble bee on the lambs ears--a zoom shot.

Finally, a landscape and zoom of the familiar view across the neighboring pasture and down the Big Creek Valley to the south.